Kikkan Randall (right) scored a career best non-sprint finish in the 10k freestyle FIS World Cup opener in Gaellivare taking third behind Marit Bjoergen of Norway and Norway's Therese Johaug. (Getty Images/AFP-Jonas Ekstromer)
GAELLIVARE, Sweden (Nov. 24) – The U.S. Cross Country Ski Team’s women wasted no time establishing their direction for the season with a strong FIS Cross Country World Cup opener in Gaellivare. Defending sprint champion Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) scored her first non-sprint podium, finishing third in the 10k freestyle race. Holly Brooks (Anchorage) had a career best fifth. Norway’s Marit Bjoergen took the women’s win while countryman Martin Johnsrud Sundby took the men’s. The U.S. women are expected to be contenders in a 4x5k team event Sunday.
Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) was third in the FIS Cross Country World Cup 10k freestyle opener in Gaellivare, Sweden – her first non-sprint podium.
Holly Brooks (Anchorage) scored a career best fifth.
Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) was challenging the leaders, skiing in the top five before crashing and breaking pole, eventually finishing 21st.
Brooks started sixth and set the early pace, coming in as the leader and getting the seat of honor in the reindeer skin leader's chair before eventually giving it up to Randall.
Three of the top four women were Olympic champions led by Norway’s Marit Bjoergen who took the win.
The podium came as a big surprise to Randall who approached the race as a workout. In fact, when her coach told her with two kilometers to go that she was challenging for the podium, she didn't believe it.
Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) led the U.S. men in 32nd.
The opening team event is set for Sunday with a 4x7.5k for men and 4x5k for women.
QUOTES Kikkan Randall (career first non-sprint podium) Today was a very pleasant surprise. Today I just wanted to go out and really focus on getting a really hard workout. Wow, this is something I've wanted to do sometime in my career. I definitely did not expect to be here this early.
Having been recovering from a stress fracture since August and having done a very different training than I'm used to I was very anxious coming into this weekend not knowing how I was going to feel.
I'm really psyched the team skied so well today. We have a relay coming up tomorrow and that's one of our big goals of the season. The American team is definitely being noticed.
Holly Brooks (career best World Cup) I'm pumped! And that's probably an understatement! Most everyone ahead of me has an Olympic gold medal to their name so that's quite unreal (three of top four were Olympic champions)!
Perhaps my favorite part of the day was all the girls that picked themselves up from the snow after the race and came over to shake my hand. It was really classy and it made me happy to be part of such a fun sport.
Matt Whitcomb, Women's Head Cross Country Coach We saw yesterday in our team intensity session that Kikkan was coming into World Cup form again, only this time perhaps at a new level. Today's result is testament to her patience in her recovery from injury, and a great reminder to any anyone that a strong dose of recovery tends to do the body good.